Right to vote 25 years old today

Landsgemeinde Appenzell Innerrhoden, picture from website of CVP Party, Appenzell

Landsgemeinde Appenzell Innerrhoden, picture from website of CVP Party, Appenzell

25 years ago today the last Swiss women received the right to vote. Yes, you read right. Most Swiss women were given voting rights in 1971, which is only 44 years ago too. But the women in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden (there are 26 cantons in Switzerland) were made an exception. They would have to wait another 19 years. What sounds like serious discrimination against women has its roots in a deeply entrenched tradition, the Landsgemeinde. The men of Appenzell Innerrhoden (a mountain region) met once a year to vote on all cantonal issues – choosing their government, making decisions on larger financial and business issues. The day began with a special church service, then the parade (dress in traditional clothing) to the village square, where a tribunal was set up. The men lined up in the square, each with his bayonet by his side. Voting was done by raising the bayonet, which was passed down in the family through many generations. It was a lovely show. And not one that the men were going to give up without a big fight.
The women won, eventually. Even a country as steeped in tradition as Switzerland cannot deny its citizens its basic rights forever. The day still begins with the church service and parade, the men still vote by bayonet if they have one. But the women are there too now, with a ballot card.
There are voices that say that having to be physically present at the election square is discriminating against those who are sick or away. Or that the show of ballot cards or bayonets may sway some people to vote other than they would if the vote was private. But here, at least, tradition stands firm. The next Landsgemeinde will be held April 26, 2015. If you’re in the area, it would be worth checking out!

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